WASHINGTON - Housing starts fell 4.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 657,000 in December from the revised 685,000 for November, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Building permits dropped 0.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 679,000 last month from the revised November rate of 680,000.

The December housing starts rate was well below the median 680,000 projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters but was 24.9% above the December 2010 rate of 526,000.

The building permits rate for December was slightly lower than the median 680,000 projected by the economists but was 7.8% above the December 2010 rate of 630,000.

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